Navajo Nation extends strict stay-at-home orders

Quiet roads in Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona, during weekend lockdown. (Navajo Police Department via Facebook)

Dalton Walker

A remote State of the Navajo Nation address could happen as soon as Monday * This story has been updated

The Navajo Nation is extending weekend lockdowns for the next few weeks, the tribe's leader said, noting strict stay-at-home orders and other measures are helping slow the spike in cases on the sprawling reservation. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said cases increased over the Easter weekend, but a 57-hour lockdown helped in flattening the curve.

Nez told the Associated Press he was thankful most people are adhering to public health orders, but not everyone is complying.

“It's very disheartening to receive reports of many people going out into the public today and traveling to border towns, most due to the federal stimulus funds that our people are beginning to receive,” he said after announcing weekend lockdowns would continue.

People were allowed to leave home during that time for only essential reasons, and tribal police patrolled for offenders. Church gatherings moved to the airwaves and internet.

“Social distancing, shelter in place, curfew and lockdown is contributing to the slow incline of cases,” Nez told Indian Country Today on Monday. “Don’t get me wrong, [Navajo Nation cases are] a big number, but compared to national averages, we are below that.”

A daily 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew also remains in effect.

The first known Navajo Nation coronavirus case was reported March 17. As of Wednesday, 921 cases had been reported, along with 38 deaths, both numbers the highest in Indian Country. The Navajo Nation is one of the largest tribes in numbers and in tribal land. It covers around 27,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and is home to more than 175,000 people.

The tribe's rise in cases has fluctuated in the past few days, from 101 to 115 to 25 to 83. 

However, with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service continuing to implement rapid COVID-19 testing, the public should expect to see a spike in positive cases due to quicker test results, Nez said during a town hall Tuesday.

“The numbers will rise, but we will also rise to the challenge,” Vice President Lizer said.

Federal relief

Nez noted some federal dollars have been distributed to the Navajo region of Indian Health Service to help battle the coronavirus, but the tribal government has yet to receive any federal relief.

He questioned the process and said it’s “lengthy,” and “the way it looks, we might not see some of these dollars until the summer, and there’s a need right now for money, resources here on the Navajo Nation.”

Nez said the federal government needs to evaluate the funding process to tribal nations, and media coverage is “shedding light on a bigger problem in the funding process.”

“This is the same federal process that tribes have to go by every fiscal year when dollars get appropriated to tribes and here this is an emergency, especially for Navajo,” he said.

He said the tribe recently applied for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, but said it can take weeks to see results.

Self-quarantine

Nez and Lizer have been running the tribal government remotely as part of a 14-day self-quarantine at their homes. Monday marked the sixth day, and Nez said he was “feeling great.”

Both had been along the front lines monitoring day-to-day operations when they learned a first responder they were in close contact with tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Navajo Nation has had a limited supply of test kits, and Nez and Lizer followed protocol not to take a test if they weren’t showing any symptoms.

“I’d hate for myself to get tested and take one kit from someone who may need it,” Nez said. “Now, if I was systematic, then obviously it would be a different story.”

A spring State of the Navajo Nation address could happen as soon as Monday. It’s not yet known where it will take place or how it will be delivered. A State of the Navajo Nation address usually happens four times a year coinciding with the seasons. In 2019, the spring address was on April 15.

Easter weekend on the Navajo Nation

Easter weekend was also Navajo Nation Family Prayer Weekend, a proclamation signed by Nez.

The Navajo Christian Leadership Summit broadcast an Easter Sunday service on Facebook and on the radio, with many tribal leaders participating digitally. Nez said it was an example of how tribal citizens can worship together while not gathering.

Before the 57-hour curfew, a church group received permission to host an hourlong Good Friday service in Ganado. Worshippers gathered in a church parking lot but sat in their cars while the pastor used a speaker system to deliver the service. No one was allowed to get out of their vehicle, Nez said. Permission for the service was granted by local leaders because the request met guidelines.

As of Wednesday night, there were 1,266 confirmed positive cases and 50 deaths in the Indian health system, according to Indian Country Today’s data. For the latest coronavirus-related numbers in the Navajo Nation, click here.

(More information: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus — Data, story summaries, lists of closures, resources)

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker

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